One of the greatest myths proclaimed by Protestants deals with reconciliation and forgiveness of sin. You have all heard it. Many Catholics even believe it. It goes something like this: “Why confess your sins to a man?”, or “I don’t have to go through a man to confess my sins. I go directly to God.”
This is myth! This is hogwash! It is false. But even worse, this myth does so much damage because it prevents people from confessing and reconciling with God. This myth is evil.
So where does it come from? This belief has no foundation in Christian Scripture or Tradition. However, it has cost many people forgiveness of their sin and reconciliation with God. It is a deadly falsehood with eternal consequences for many souls. Jesus came to forgive sins, and he gave us the sacraments for reconciliation. As Catholics we must reject this myth! We must confront this lie in order to spread the Gospel, the Good News of Salvation through the forgiveness of sins.
You cannot find anywhere in the New Testament the teaching that it is sufficient to confess your sins only to God.
On the contrary, throughout the New Testament we hear Jesus say he came for the forgiveness of sins. This forgiveness was not available to man before Jesus’ coming, and his teaching and that of the Apostles to confess our sins to one another.
In today’s Gospel about John the Baptist, we hear that
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
… they acknowledged their sins, out loud, to John. John’s baptism with water was a symbol of being washed clean from sin after they confessed.
Jesus forgave sins all the time, and we hear him say it often, “Your sins are forgiven.” He was showing the Apostles how to do it. Later he gave them the power to do it, when he said
“Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Jn 20:23
And, in another place Jesus said,
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Mt 16:19
Jesus wanted the Apostles to forgive sins! Jesus would also say,
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Jn 5:23-24
That meant face-to-face confession to be in a state of Grace to receive the Eucharist at the Altar.
St. Paul would later say,
And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation
2 Cor 5:18
St. James would say,
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful. James 5:16
Every single time the command in Scripture was to confess our sins to each other. Of course we admit our sins to God in our prayer to Him, but reconciliation comes from the Church, in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confession and Anointing of the Sick. It has been entrusted to the priests of the Church to hear Confessions on behalf of the Community and to “bind or loose” people from their sins.
There is not a single place in the Bible where Jesus or the Apostles tell us to confess our sins only to God. But there are many places where Jesus and the Apostles tell us to confess our sins to one another. The apostles understood that Jesus gave the ministry of Reconciliation to the Church. If we are obedient to Jesus and Sacred Scripture, we must recognize the fact that anything else is myth. There is no foundation anywhere for excusing ourselves from the commandment of Jesus to confess our sins to one another.
A wonderful way to pray for reconciliation is in the “Confiteor” at the opening of the Mass. Confiteor is Latin for “I confess”. Listen again,
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
This prayer is a petition: it is not an absolution. This prayer is faithful to the Scriptures; it is very Catholic, very apostolic, as we say, “I confess to almighty God AND TO YOU MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS.” I must confess to the Church! And, I must ask the Church to pray for my forgiveness.
People ask me how often they should go to Confession. I tell them that the Church requires us to go to Confession at least once a year. This used to be called our “Easter Duty”. A good spiritual director will stress the need to go more frequently. I try to go at least once every month or two. It would be good to go at least once every three or four months. Confessing our sins to the Church helps us to be accountable.
Here at St. John we have Confessions twice every Saturday, at 9am and again after the 5pm Mass. On the first Friday of every month we have confessions. This coming Friday evening we will have our parish Advent Reconciliation Service. At that time we will have several priests present to hear Confessions. Plan to go to Confession during Advent. Forgiveness of sins is the “Good News” that Jesus brought to us so that many will be saved.